NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS COVERAGE OF THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IN NIGERIA
The media are a major player during periods of disease outbreak by virtue of the influence they can exert on the public’s understanding and perception of public health situations. The agenda the media set and how issues are framed can also impact on the direction or outcome of health situations. A novel coronavirus that originated in China and has since spread to more than 20 other countries has dominated headlines across the globe since it was first announced in December 2019, as scientists and media outlets (including this one) scramble to understand the virus’ origins, trajectory and impact. The aim of this study was to examine the extent and patterns of coverage of the COVID-19 by national newspapers in Nigeria. The agenda-setting theory, media framing theory, and the social responsibility theory formed the theoretical foundation to this study.
The research method adopted for this study was content analysis. Three Nigerian national newspapers- The Punch, The Guardian, and Vanguard– were purposively selected. The timeframe for this study spanned a period of 4 months: from January 1, 2020 to April 20, 2020. The purposive sampling technique was used to select weekday editions and exclude weekend editions of the selected newspapers. The census or complete enumeration technique was used to study the entire weekday editions of the three newspapers published within the 4-month period, resulting in a sample size of 1,305 editions from an accessible population of 1,827 editions. A total of 687 contents on the coronavirus were found, coded, and analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics.
Findings revealed that the selected newspapers were episodic in their coverage by presenting the CORONAVIRUS pandemic overwhelmingly through news reports while, comparatively, doing little in terms of interpretation and analysis. The newspapers largely accorded low prominence to issues on the herders-farmers conflict with the placement of a majority of stories on the inside pages and far less on the front page. It was shown that the newspapers varied their coverage across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Results showed that the newspapers were reliant on government officials such as Nigeria centre for disease and control , security personnel and victims/eyewitnesses as their major news sources.
The study concluded that the selected newspapers played some parts in the mitigation of the coronavirus reportage, and performed their watchdog role over the society effectively. The study recommended, among other things, that the Nigeria press should be more interpretative and analytical in their coverage of the coronavirus cases ;that journalists should be regularly trained in health sensitive reporting.